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Sharif Cements Power as Loyalist Voted Pakistan President

The candidate of Pakistan’s ruling party was elected the country’s president, tightening Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s grip on power as he struggles to push ahead with plans to end energy and security crises.

Mamnoon Hussain of the Pakistan Muslim League (N) won 432 votes in the electoral college, comprising the federal parliament and four provincial assemblies, according to the Election Commission of Pakistan. His only opponent, Wajihuddin Ahmed, a retired judge supported by Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party, secured 77 votes. Hussain will succeed Asif Ali Zardari from September and serve for five years.

“Though the presidency has become a ceremonial post, a hostile and a non-compliant president can create a lot of trouble,” said Rashid Ahmed Khan, a political analyst and professor of international relations at the University of Sargodha in Punjab province. “He can side with the army in the event of a potential tussle.”

Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party boycotted the election, saying that a Supreme Court decision to advance the vote from Aug. 6 left it insufficient time to campaign.

Sharif, who won a record third term in May’s general election, is seeking to revive an economy undermined by electricity blackouts of as long as 18 hours a day, and curb terrorist violence. Imran Khan has so far refused to attend an all-party conference on ways to tackle the militancy, while provincial leaders have objected to proposals to end energy woes.

‘Right Track’

Victory today would remove one potential obstacle to Sharif “pursuing his policy agenda,” said Khan, the analyst. “The honeymoon period for Sharif is ending fast. In the next two to three months, he has to show that the economy is on the right track.”

Hussain, who was born in the Indian city of Agra prior to the partition of the subcontinent at the end of British colonial rule, is a former governor of Sindh province. He joined the Muslim League in 1969 and runs a textiles business in Karachi, the News daily reported July 26, calling him a “low profile” politician.

Constitutional changes in 2010 removed presidential powers accrued by former military leader Pervez Musharraf to dismiss the prime minister and appoint military leaders. Zardari, the widower of assassinated Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto who became president after Musharraf was forced to resign in 2008, remained a key player in Pakistani politics as head of the Peoples Party which led the last ruling coalition.

More than 50 people were killed on July 27 in a twin market bombing in the north west that targeted Pakistan’s Shiite minority, the Dawn newspaper reported. Pakistan on July 28 protested a U.S. drone attack that killed seven militants in North Waziristan, a stronghold of groups fighting international forces across the border in Afghanistan.

IMF Loan

The $210 billion economy had expanded at an annual average of 3 percent since 2008, below the 7 percent pace the Asian Development Bank says is needed to provide jobs for an idle workforce. Sharif is aiming for 4.4 percent growth in the year that began July 1.

The International Monetary Fund’s board will meet in September to consider a loan request of as much as $5.3 billion, after a plunge in foreign exchange reserves triggered a near-5 percent devaluation of Pakistan’s rupee this year. The IMF has asked Pakistan to ensure policy changes are under way when the board considers the program, to help convince the lender that the nation is “committed,” IMF mission head Jeffrey Franks said this month.

Sharif’s victory in May 11 parliamentary polls kicked off a year of transition in Pakistan. General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani’s three-year term as army chief ends in November, while Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry will complete his period in office in December.

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